After a decade as a hardworking touring band, French Kicks were somehow nowhere near the level of success of their lifelong friends The Walkmen. Both bands originally hail from the Washington D.C. area and relocated to New York City to pursue their dreams of playing music and making albums.
Following the indie rock boom of the early 2000s, ignited by bands like The Strokes and The White Stripes, more underground bands started getting the attention they deserved. Bands like Interpol, The Stills, Spoon, The Walkmen, Amblulance Ltd, Rooney, Franz Ferdinand and possibly the most criminally overlooked, French Kicks, found varying levels of success. Regardless of reputation or record sales, these artists became some of my favorite bands of all time, making records I still listen to today. Records like the French Kicks’ final masterpiece of an album, which they produced themselves and called “Swimming.”
Originally, French Kicks started as a vehicle for songwriter Nick Stumpf and his friends Matthew Stinchcomb, Josh Wise and Jamie Krentz as they were finishing college and beginning to record EPs, which ultimately led to their first album “One Time Bells.” Soon after, Krentz left the group and was replaced by Nick’s younger brother Lawrence Stumpf on bass; and so began the revolving door of musicians most bands experience.
After recording their spectacular breakthrough record “Trial of the Century,” Stinchcomb left the group and Josh Wise became a larger part of the songwriting force in the band while Nick stopped playing drums live so he could focus on singing and playing other instruments. This led to the recruitment of drummer and percussionist Aaron Thurston. By the time the Kicks’ third LP “Two Thousand” came out they also brought in multi-instrumentalist Kush El Amin to help handle the growing arrangements live.
Truly, all their albums are wonderful and “Two Thousand” has an incredible single called “So Far We Are” with Olivia Wilde in the video, but after failing to find any sure-footed success, the band decided to scale things back. French Kicks decided to produce their own EP called “The Roller EP” that translated a uniquely warm style of homemade goodness that ultimately led them to similar decisions when making their fourth and perhaps best record: “Swimming.” Uniting as their own support system, the Stumpf brothers and Wise wrote songs together and separately while Thurston stayed on to play whatever drums the guys threw at him, reducing French Kicks to a core four once more.
Lead single “Abandon” starts the record and as soon as the ribcage-rattling bass and sunshine-soaked harmonies come in, listeners may realize they are embarking on a journey through an album that might be better than they expected. Unique, upbeat rhythms, sheering guitars, softly sweet keys, buttery bass and truly unbelievable harmonies and vocal arrangements make French Kicks undeniable.
“Swimming” is not just an underrated record; it is an unbelievably underrated record. Almost every person I’ve show this album to is immediately impressed. The song “Said So What” says it all. Gaining the band some slight attention for its rotation in Urban Outfitters stores, “Said So What” is the quintessential single every band dreams of: catchy, original, dreamy and cool. Wise wrote the song and Nick Stumpf said as soon as he heard the demo he drove around in his car listening to it over and over again. It’s that kind of song. You’ll be singing, “Why tell my why/ I don’t know” before the song ends, and for many years after.
“Love in the Ruins” is a heartbreakingly authentic love song, which seems to sadly and ironically mirror the bands relationship with the public. By the time Walkmen singer Hamilton Leithauser married the Stumpf brothers’ sister Anna and The Walkmen were playing major festivals across the world, French Kicks were still relatively unknown and playing quaint rooms. Which is extra heartbreaking, due to the fact that French Kicks were absolutely incredible live.
“Sex Tourists” is an irrefutably memorable jam, written by Lawrence Stumpf, the younger brother took over guitar for playing it live and Nick switched to four-string duty, playing “booty bass” as he called it. Bouncy and fun, “Sex Tourists” showcases the band’s ability to turn out all types of songs that get stuck in your head for different reasons. Some of my favorite songs on the record are the deeper cuts like “New Man” and “Atlanta,” which focus on aging, struggling and changing throughout life in a strange, evolving world.
It’s the song “All Our Weekends” that truly brings about a rare type of bittersweet calm that only French Kicks could deliver so serenely. These guys were not rock stars; they were incredible musicians struggling to make the rest of the world realize the merit of the art they were creating. This comes across through “Swimming” in a classy, humble manner, where as a band like The Walkmen, although incredible in their own right, had a way more “woe is me” attitude about them until they realized how lucky they were and made a record called “Heaven.”
“This Could Go Wrong” closes out “Swimming” on an ominous and unsure note, which appropriately reflects how the band was no doubt feeling at the time. Maybe they knew it would be their last record going into it, but they toured behind it anyways because even they could not deny the beautiful depth to what they had created. The band may have broken up after “Swimming” but the honey-flavored soul-searching indie pop they created will last forever. Just keep swimming.
“Said So What” – “Love in the Ruins” – “Sex Tourists” – “All Our Weekends” – “New Man” – “Atlanta”
Genres – indie, pop, alternative, rock
Influences – Beach Boys, Fleetwood Mac, The Kinks, Velvet Underground
Article by Adam Fitzgerald.